“She has what?” His mother’s voice escalated dangerously and he realized that this wasn’t going to go over well. Returning, newly-and-unexpectedly-married, from a routine business trip to India had been bad enough, but now there was this awkward situation to be dealt with. He cleared his throat and tried to sound casual, “She has wings.” His mother dropped the tea cup she was holding.
“She has wings?” His mother uttered the word like she’d never heard it before. Yes he nodded, trying to appear casual. As if flying appendages attached to one’s bride were perfectly normal. “And you knew this when you married her?” He nodded again, remembering their first meeting. She had been barefoot. Standing on the sea shore, wearing a white blouse, a long moss green skirt and a wistful expression. Her wings were fanning gently behind her, like a resting butterfly’s. He had never seen anything so beautiful. She filled his heart with tenderness before he even knew her name. He did not know what she saw in him. Safety maybe? In a flighty world he was solid as the earth. He asked her out to coffee, and even though she did not drink caffeine, she said yes. They were married within the week.
Somehow the wings had never troubled him. In his eyes she was a magical creature, a being not entirely of this world. On her the wings seemed perfectly natural. He’d asked her about them once. And she’d answered his questions without hesitation or embarrassment. Yes she’d had them since birth. No her parents (both dead) did not have them — though there were rumors of a maternal great-great-grandmother who had been ‘touched by angels’. No they were not removable. Yes they could be concealed under clothes without discomfort. Yes she could use them to fly. High enough to clear tree tops, but not much higher. And only for relatively short distances — she could cross a pond or a small lake easily, but not an ocean. So he bought her an airplane ticket, and they traveled back to his home in the United States together. She had never been in an airplane or out of India before. On the flight they traded seats so she could look out the window, her eyes enormous with wonder.
His mother who knew he was returning from a work trip had been expecting him, but not the bride. They had not informed anyone on either side of the wedding. Delirious with happiness he imagined his only living parent would be thrilled to have him show up on their doorstep with this lovely overseas wife as a surprise. His well-bred mother’s eyebrows had shot up past her hairline when they were introduced at the door. Her smile had stayed in tact, but lost its warmth so rapidly, that his dark-haired wife actually shivered, and hugged her elbows. A gesture that made her look so lost and waif-like that he wished they could turn around and go home.
After seating them in the living room his mother had excused herself to put on a pot of tea. He had followed her into the kitchen, and wanting to have it out, had mentioned the wings. After high-pitched disbelief, and a shattered teacup, grimness had descended on his mother’s face like armor. “You have obviously lost your mind,” she said, “ I don’t know what kind of trickster that woman is, but she’s up to no good. You’d better keep a separate bank account and one eye on her at all times.” He tried to stand up for his wife’s innocence, but his mother waved him aside with a swatting-fly gesture as old as his childhood. She placed a white china teapot patterned with pale pink roses on a tray, with matching cups and saucers. “We’ll have to look into clipping them,” she said. “Clipping what?” he asked bewildered. “Her wings of course,” said his mother, before sailing through the door to serve hot tea with a side of chilliness to the woman waiting in her living room. A woman whose eyes were slowly beginning to spark, like two black shards of flint.
Outer timidity can mask a fierce resoluteness of spirit, a domineering exterior house deep-seated fragilities. And no one’s wings can ever be clipped without the clipper losing their own place in the sun. He knows these things, or at least suspects them, and because he is not a man given to foregone conclusions, he finds himself curious about where this situation is headed.
As he joins the two women in the living room he is thinking of systems dynamics, non-linear relationships, the butterfly effect.
A woman chances to flap her wings on a sea shore somewhere in India and…